Elephants in Royal Weddings

The more irrelevant members of erstwhile royal families get, the more they overcompensate in their rituals. Desperate to keep themselves in positions of some authority they endorse terrible rituals like animal sacrifice – only because they have to make the first kill in front of an audience proving their proximity to the gods. They go into politics, conducting their campaigns like Englishmen on howdahs being kind to the natives. They rent out their palaces as hotels and turn into hotel managers by day and maharajas by night. And they are at their worst when it comes to their opulent, over the top, garish weddings. Every leftover of every royal family comes with a turban, sword and grandfather’s jewellery. They are so insecure about the attention that they call filmstars they have never met and a collection of foreigners who were once semi famous but are now nobodies in their own countries and who have become friends because they stayed at their hotels. They give press releases which run like this : “More than 750 guests from several erstwhile kingdoms of the country will attend the wedding. Several political dignitaries from different states are also likely to attend the wedding. An elephant is being transported for the wedding. The groom will ride the elephant which will be decorated in royal style. Fashion designers have been brought in to help the guests to don their royal attire. The marriage venue has been decorated like a palace and more than 350 types of delicacies will be served to the guests”  If that is not enough, they will become nautankis. “ In December, when a prince was married in Gujarat, the couple rode through the streets on a white stallion while townspeople lined the streets and leaned over balconies showering them with applause — and money.”


Why am I so irritated with these ludicrous fops? Because all their weddings for some reason have to have elephants parading up and down in order to trumpet their status. Recently a “royal” wedding in Orissa brought in an elephant from Rajasthan , hundreds of miles away. The authorities were pushed into giving permission because the families are well connected politically. No one thought of the poor animal.


Not that the elephants even belong to them. They hire them for the function and pretend that this animal is part of their royal households. In actual fact most of them cannot afford even horses, much less elephants. There is a company called Lawazama that caters animals for royal functions so you know where most of them get them from.


This is what the site says :


Kings, Queens and nobility would travel with a regalia of Army and entertainers that would provide them security and entertainment. They would use the best of Animal driven buggies made of silver and gold and using best of cloth and brocade. The Lawazama agency has maintained and preserved the old animal ornaments, royal Chattri with stones and ornamentations, buggies and props of these royal processions and the same are available to recreate the Royal past . Animals include Elephants, Elephants with royal Seat and buggies, Camels, Horses Palanquin etc. Animals depicted the power's of the kingdom as the strength of the kingdom was gauged by the Army it would maintain and the Animals like Elephants, Camels, Horses, Ox etc would tell the size and strength of the army.

We have a full service Lawazama Back up where we arrange the Rented Animals, Carts, Buggy, wedding Doli (palanquin), character Dresses etc. The Animals are also used for Game of Elephant Polo, Horse Polo or Camel Polo.”


Those that have no weddings to enhance their “royalty” put together polo teams where horses are treated really badly. Or organise polo matches for which they find liquor companies as sponsors. Or go to other royalty-driven polo matches. The only time you see a gathering of sherwanis and chiffons is at these matches, no matter what the weather.


And nothing draws them more than elephant polo where these lumbering beasts are made to run and kick balls. Only these royals are insensitive enough to use these captive noble great animals, whose intellect and emotional life is identical to man’s, in a sport that causes nothing but pain.


Unfortunately, what the rich and useless do, is often imitated by newly rich politicians and businessmen. Recently elephants brought in at a wedding reception of two BSP leaders in Uttar Pradesh went on a rampage after guns were fired in a “royal” salute.  They damaged vehicles and forced the guests to flee for their lives. In all, there were 13 elephants, 15 camels and 42 horses to welcome the guests. Forest department officials and police teams remained helpless spectators as the chaos led to a huge traffic jam on the highway.


People who bring elephants to weddings should go to jail. The animal is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and it is illegal to rent them out or to hire them. They cannot be used for any commercial activity. What is needed is for people to call in the police and forest department every time they see an elephant at one of these weddings and embarrass the givers. The same way that police were called in whenever anyone wore a shahtoosh shawl in public, until now no one wears them.


My son was married in an old temple in Varanasi. We had twenty people as guests and every sacred ritual was done with respect and attention. It was a marriage that was done the way marriages should be – as a private religious pooja consecrated to the gods. My husband and I has a small ceremony at the back of a garden with jasmine curtains as the backdrop and fifteen guests.


If the royals want to copy the one royal family they all adore, the British Royal family, they should do what Prince William and his wife Kate did at their wedding. They asked guests, and anyone who might consider giving them a wedding gift, to instead make a donation to their gift fund which included animal charities. The chosen organizations included scholarships for children, support services for military personnel, care for the elderly, changing lives through arts and sport and conservation for future generations. The animal organizations were selected because of their work to save critically endangered black rhinos in Kenya, wild elephants in Thailand, the Sumatran tiger, Indian tiger and Amur tiger. One of their donations was to the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh in a program called the Sundarbans Tiger Project.  The project watches over the tiger colonies and keeps poachers at bay.


Contrast that with the tightfistedness of royal families who refuse to help anything. Instead of showing off their marriages and rented animals to an indifferent public, they would be much better liked if they had the sense to put their marriage funds into a mass feeding of the poor.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


Pl. add: To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*